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December 4, 2022
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Lighting for Literacy celebrates 10 years

Project brings light to communities worldwide

The Los Gatos Morning Rotary (LGMR) paid tribute to the 10-year history of Lighting for Literacy (LFL) on March 23 at its 7:30am meeting. 

Rotarians, members of the United Methodist Church, LFL volunteers and co-founder Doug McNeil’s family attended. 

A decade ago, McNeil and Jess Salem volunteered to create a Rotary Earth Day for youth, a project to bring light to 20 percent of the world who live in the dark with no electricity. A simple solar lighting system was assembled and tested in the classroom by middle and high school students, which served as an initial introduction to Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Music (STEAM). 

LGMR President Trevor Schwartz introduced the speakers at the meeting as each covered a stage of the LFL journey.

Jessica Eastland, McNeil’s daughter, shared her father’s dream. 

“In recalling the first celebration of LFL, my dad and Jess Salem saw the idea catching fire,” Eastland said. “Both knew then it would be more than a one-day project. The project day was over, but the dream was not. As a teacher at McAuliffe School, our fourth and fifth grade students engaged in the project. It soon took hold. Many Santa Clara County schools, community and corporate projects got involved. United Methodist Church Los Gatos, The 49ers Foundation, Silicon Valley Education Foundation and several valley Rotary clubs and new partnerships evolved. 

“This year in the full circle of life for LFL, you see the ‘Silver Lining’ comes from hard times. Covid gave us all plenty of curve balls. Last year Dr. Pete Taylor and two other UMC volunteers drove to Mexico to deliver the units. What a joy it was as the youth of Colonet, Mexico stepped up and completed the installations.

“Ten years later, LFL has 70 projects in 23 countries and 25 partners. I’ve often heard it said, ‘You don’t need a plan. You just had to be present.’ 

“My dad and Jess didn’t have an LFL plan, but they stayed present as it grew. They spoke of good ideas into the world. Their belief to be a better future would ride out the trials and teachable elements. My dad and Jess wanted to solve a problem to bring light into the world. “On the way both were met with life-threatening illness. Jess was diagnosed with 4-stage cancer in 2011 and passed away in 2017. That same year, dad got Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). His life depends on life support systems. 

“My dad often says that the LFL passion and cause, had helped to sustain their lives. Bringing light into dark places, it helped them find a light in their own lives. What beauty there is when you live a life of Service Above Self and when you live and love. Let us be inspired by Doug and Jeff. Let’s keep their torchlight for many years to come.”

Additional speakers shared their LFL experience:

• Kevin Kinsella, Fisher Middle School eighth grade science teacher

• Dave Katra, Los Gatos resident, retired engineer and LGMR member, prepared the student instruction kits and taught students how to assemble and test the LFL units.

• Gary Lord, retired CFO, spoke for Dr. Peter Taylor, who was out of town. Taylor has led nine years of LFL installation in Colonet, Mexico, that provides light for 100 families.

• Christina Enneking led global deployment to Collado, Nicaragua; Malawi, Africa; Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Takmachik Village, Leh District India. She showed a video of LFL highlights of the installs.

• Joe Hamilton, past Rotary District Governor, joined Doug McNeil at the White House to receive former President Obama’s Champion of Change Award.

Doug McNeil’s parents Jim and Renee accepted the LGMR Humanitarian Award for Doug.

Ginger McDonald is the past president of Los Gatos Morning Rotary.